Have you noticed how often the word “family” or the term “family-friendly” gets used? And have you given any attention to what it has come to mean?
The newsfeeds have been all a-buzz today with the story of Leisha Hailey getting kicked off a Southwest Airlines plane when she kissed her girlfriend. According to the airline, some people complained that their kiss was excessive and when flight attendants stepped in, Hailey got upset, so they kicked her off the plane. It’s unlikely that Hailey and her girlfriend were doing anything that heterosexual couples haven’t done. And in fact, according to the conversation on The Talk about the event, it seems that when Bruce Jenner & his wife Kris snuck away to the bathroom when they were feeling frisky (thinking that no one noticed), the flight attendant later announced over the intercom, “American Airlines would like to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Jenner to the mile high club!”
But what I find missing from all of the reports is any discussion of the fact that (according to Hailey), the flight attendant told her this:
I have been discriminated against by @southwestair. Flt. attendant said that it was a “family” airline and kissing was not ok.
— Leisha Hailey (@Leisha_Hailey) September 26, 2011
Hold onto that for a moment, and let’s look at a different situation. It seems that a booth at a farmer’s market in London, Ontario got into some hot water with the market organizers because their employees were transgender. According to the booth owner, the market’s manager said that the event is “a family place, a family market and [having transgender staff] just isn’t right.”
What’s the commonality here? In both situations, “family” is being used as a smokescreen. It’s a great way to shut down dialogue and keep people out, but what it really does is let heterosexual, cisgender people not have to figure out how to talk with their kids about gender and sexual orientation. Rather than engaging in an age-appropriate conversation with children about how the world works, “family” gets used to avoid the whole thing. This isn’t about protecting children from sexuality, even though that’s how it’s framed. It’s about coddling adults’ discomfort with the topic and that needs to change.
Want an easy way to talk with your kids about lesbians? Here’s a script:
Some boys like girls, some boys like boys, some boys like both. Some girls like girls, some girls like boys, some girls like both. Whoever you decide to like, I’ll always love you.
How about talking about gender diversity?
A lot of people are born in a boy’s or a girl’s body and they feel like the other. Some of them will do things like change the way they look or take medications so they look on the outside more like they feel on the inside. A lot of people treat them differently, but we know to treat them with respect, just like we do with everyone.
And yes, I know that both of these issues are vastly more complex than this, but I’m keeping it simple for the sake of the parents. Older kids are certainly able to understand gender diversity, if it’s explained to them.
If you don’t want to help your child understand the amazing beauty, courage, and love shown by people who have to struggle to be accepted and have fought to carve out a space in the world, what are you really teaching them? How do you think they’ll feel if it turns out that they’re queer or trans, or if someone they love is? In what way does your silence serve them? It’s past time that we stopped letting the word “family” camouflage the real issue here. And it’s time that we finally recognize that queer and gender non-conforming people are also part of someone’s family. Unless, of course, what you mean to teach your children is that if they do turn out queer or transgender, they won’t be part of your family anymore. Is that what you want to tell them?